A domain name or website address is usually a commercial company’s gateway to its website. Domain names create the first impression consumers have of the product or service sold by a commercial company. As the use of e-commerce grows, so does the importance of domain names for corporations.
For many companies, a domain name has a huge economic significance that affects the company’s ability to sell its products and services on the Internet, and therefore they have a great interest in protecting the domain name from parties who would like to use the name itself or names similar to it.
For example, Amazon, which owns the domain name amazon.com, may be harmed if a competitor uses the domain name amazon-sale.com.
In this article we will examine what a domain name is and how domain names can be protected.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a unique name of a website, which distinguishes it from other websites. A domain name is the Internet equivalent of a phone number or address. A website is a source of information hosted in one location (the host device) on a network known as the Internet.
Every device connected to the Internet has an IP address. An IP address indicates the location of the device within the computer network. The IP address consists of a sequence of digits separated by dots. The separated field indicates the network, subnet and local address, read from left to right (eg 26.77.45).
When computers “communicate” on the Internet, they do not do so in terms of domain names, but instead interpret the domain name into the corresponding IP address.
In order to access the information found on a certain website, the user opens a browser and requests access to the web page by typing the website address.
By typing the address of a website (for example www.dwo.co.il) the user requests access to a specific location written in numbers.
Since humans may find it difficult to remember a long sequence of numbers, compound names were developed. The domain names should be unique and easily recognizable names, which indicate the ownership of a particular website.
Therefore, identical domain names cannot be assigned to two separate websites. As with an IP address, domain names are also separated by dots, but they are read from right to left.
Domain names consist of part modifiers: (1) Top Level Domain (TLD); and (2) Second Level Domain.
For example at www.dwo.co.il: co.il is the top level domain name and dwo is the second level domain name.
Domain name registration
In Israel, certified registrars are bodies that meet the criteria established by the Israeli Internet Association. Registering a domain name gives the owner of the domain name the exclusive right to use the domain name. However, registering a domain name, in itself, does not grant the owner of the domain name the exclusive right to use the registered name as the domain name in general.
Registering the domain name gives the owner of the domain name the right to prevent others from registering the same domain name but not to prevent others from using the name in a different way.
Domain name protection through trademark registration
A domain name performs the same role in online transactions as a trademark performs in offline transactions. A trademark marks the corporation’s goods or services, while a domain name is the corporation’s address on the Internet and the corporation’s virtual image.
Also, many corporations use their registered trade names as domain names. Thus, it is much easier for consumers who are familiar with the corporation’s trademark to find the corporation’s website.
The registered owner of a trademark receives the exclusive right to use his trademark in respect of those goods and/or services. The trademark is used to distinguish the goods and/or services of a particular business from those of its competitors. A mark consisting of a compound name may be eligible for registration as a trademark. A well-protected domain name is beneficial to the profitability of the business.
Therefore, it is recommended to register the domain name as a trademark.
However, just like any other trademark, the domain name will be registered only as a trademark that can distinguish the goods and/or services of one business from those of its competitors. The domain name must be used as a reliable source identifier of the goods and/or services of a particular business on the Internet in order to be registered as a trademark. The domain name must be unique and different from the other trademarks and domain names known throughout the Internet in order not to mislead customers.
Protection of a domain name that is not registered as a trademark (Passing off)
When the owner of the domain name does not have a registered trademark on the domain name, the operation of the owner’s business under the domain name, as well as the sale of the products and/or services under the domain name, may create a reputation for the owner of the domain name in this name. This may provide some protection for the domain name by using the tort of “Passing off” set out in Section 1 of the Trade Torts Act, but it will often be more difficult and expensive to protect the domain name through the tort of “Passing off” than through trademark registration.
The difficulty in protecting a domain name through the tort of Passing off is the need to prove a significant reputation that the domain name has accumulated in such a way that the public identifies the domain name with its owner.